“Great Escape” becoming reality for kids with special needs

Soapbubbles-SteveEFEarly last year, the Rotary Club of College Station approached the city with an inspired project idea – an inclusive playground for children with special needs.

Since several rotary club members work in Texas A&M’s College of Architecture, they also thought the project would be ideal for their landscape architecture students. The College Station Noon Lions Club soon joined in the effort, too.

Population growth reflects need

The city’s population recently surpassed 100,000, and the special needs community continues to grow as well. The College Station Independent School District alone has 1,435 students with various disabilities, but no “play for all” parks or playgrounds exist within the seven-county region encompassed by the Brazos Valley Council of Governments.

In consultation with College Station Parks and Recreation, the landscape architecture students completed conceptual designs last fall that are the foundation for an advanced development plan. The students studied existing inclusive playgrounds in Texas, other states, England and Australia. They identified a two-acre site at Central Park as the best location due to ease of access, existing amenities, available space, available parkland dedication funds and visibility.

Called The Great Escape at Central Park, the project would provide a safe atmosphere and is designed to have a long life with low maintenance. The playground would serve various ability levels while incorporating educational aspects and challenges to spark the kids’ imaginations and enhance their quality of life. Amenities include chair swings and specially designed slides for kids with limited mobility, sensory items for those with Autism, splashpad, nature trail, multi-sport court, gardens, and interactive elements to encourage social play.

It would also strengthen our community by encouraging interaction and involvement. Here’s a look at the concept plan:

 

Project will be challenging

With a price tag of about $2 million, completing the facility will be challenging, but the Rotary and Lions clubs already are organizing task forces to plan fundraising efforts – which could include pursuing grants and non-profit funding – and involve the community in the facility’s construction. If those efforts are successful, the park could be built in phases over several years with construction beginning as soon as next summer.

On Thursday, the College Station City Council will hear a presentation on this worthy project. The city would allocate some funds from the Parkland Dedication Fund, and would also oversee construction and handle long-term operations and maintenance. Those costs would be supplemented by ongoing donations to a dedicated fund.

For more information on how to become involved, please call the Parks and Recreation Department at 979.764.3486.

Bubbles photo by Steve Ford Elliott.

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